Explaining the 3D Scanning Process

There’s more to the 3D scanning process than you might think! Every project is unique. To get the best results, many factors must be considered. 

What is the process of 3D scanning?

In a nutshell, the 3D scanning process involves three key steps: preparing the object, scanning, and post-processing.

The result? A versatile set of data that can be used in many ways, from 3D printing to digital design.

Before we start

To begin, we’ll assess your object to determine whether it requires any extra preparation.

target markers for 3d scanning

Target Markers

If the model lacks substantial geometry or texture, we will use target markers. These serve as guides for the scanner, assisting it in maintaining its location and enhancing its precision.

We can use either 6mm or 3mm markers depending on the size of the object – we scan everything from intricate works of art and furniture, to aeroplanes and entire cars!

On certain surfaces the markers will sometimes leave a small residue behind when removed, this is nothing to worry about and easily cleans off.

3D Scanning Spray

Shiny, black, or transparent objects can distort the light in a way that causes problems for 3D scanners. In these cases, we will apply a specialist non-reflective 3D scanning spray. This creates an opaque matte surface which is much easier for the scanner to pick up.

We use a self-evaporating spray that leaves no residue on your object, eliminating the need for any time-consuming clean-up.

Conducting the Scan

Once the object has been properly prepared, it’s time to start scanning. Depending on the size and shape of your item, we may secure it in a purpose-built jig that allows us to efficiently collect data from all angles. If the item is too large for one of our jigs, we will have to do two scans and merge them together in the post-processing stage.

How does a 3D scanner work?

A 3D scanner works by projecting light onto a subject and capturing the reflection. It measures the time taken for the light to return, determining the distance of each point. These points, represented as XYZ coordinates, are collectively used to digitally reconstruct the object in 3D.

Our metrology-grade scanners offer astonishing precision, picking up even the finest details. Check out the key stats below:

What’s the difference between resolution and accuracy?

Resolution and accuracy are two key parameters when it comes to 3D scanning, but they often get confused.

Resolution refers to the level of detail a scanner can capture, meaning a higher resolution results in a more detailed 3D model. On the other hand, accuracy relates to how closely the scanner’s measurements match the actual dimensions of the object, with higher accuracy yielding a more faithful representation of the object.


Now that we have the scan data, it’s given to our experts for post-processing – a vital stage in the 3D scanning process. This can involve digital repair, hole filling, making modifications, and preparing the final deliverables, all using the latest professional CAD software.

Do I need a CAD file?

This totally depends on your end goal. An STL file will only give you a triangled mesh of your object without any colour or texture. It contains all the imperfections of the scanned items and any ‘noise’ the scan has picked up.

A CAD file allows this data to be cleaned up and repaired, which is crucial for reverse engineering, prototyping, and printing parts in as-new condition. This is also necessary if you want to edit the design and play around with different styles.

3d scan to CAD file

What are my options?

3d scan data

Scan Data Only

You’ll receive an STL file containing only the raw scan data. This displays just the surface geometry of your object, with no representation of colour or texture.

It can be used for 3D printing in a single colour and material or simply kept as a digital copy of your physical object.

AutoSurface 3D model


Get a CAD-compatible STEP file ideal for inspection and deviation analysis. Auto-surfacing retains an accurate representation of your object’s exact geometry, including any defects.

If you need a quick turnaround and design flexibility, Auto-Surface could be the way to go. The model can also be imported into your own CAD software and further processed. 

parametric 3d model

Parametric Model

Parametric modeling takes considerably longer and uses scan data only as a reference. It’s like creating a new, flawless digital version of your object without any defects, where all holes, features, and edges are completely smooth and dimensioned. This allows future changes to be made easily by adjusting set rules.

Delivered as a STEP, parametric models also make for much smaller file sizes. It’s great for reverse engineering, 3D printing products that may require regular iterations, and recreating original designs.

Additional Services

3d digital repair

Digital Repair

Digital repair refers to correcting any imperfections and filling in gaps in the scan data. A 3D scanner works on line of sight, meaning it can’t capture what it can’t see.

For example, if you walked around a human with a 3D scanner, it wouldn’t be able to scan their underarms. However, this information could be added in manually with digital repair, giving you a complete 360-degree representation of your subject.

Learn about medical 3D scanning.

Surface Deviation Analysis

3D scanning can also be used for deviation analysis, which involves comparing a scanned object’s digital model with a reference CAD model to identify discrepancies. This technique, part of the 3D inspection process, highlights areas that are out-of-specification, enabling targeted improvements.

From this we can generate an Inspection Report, providing a detailed visual breakdown of these deviations, enhancing quality control in fields like manufacturing and engineering.

surface deviation analysis 1

How long does the 3D scanning process take?

Our standard turnaround time is 1-2 weeks. This varies depending on whether you opt for scan data only, an auto-surfaced model, or a parametric model.

Reverse engineering and additional services will extend the process too. 

Got a tight deadline? Get in touch and we will work with you to find a solution. 


Data captured during the 3D scanning process can be converted into a wide variety of outputs.

Lets Talk

We’re ready to talk about your 3D scanning enquiry. Please fill out the form, and someone will get back to you as soon as possible or give us a call, whichever suits you best.

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